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  • Writer's pictureClaire

20/2/24 Airlie Beach

Today our adventure began at 0830 and we considered it was off to a good start when there were no unalived parrots greeting us outside the appartment. The transport picked us up from the Colonial Palms Motor inn opposite the apartment. There was a couple a little older than us sat outside and they were waiting for the same trip. We sat down next to them and waited a few minutes for the pick up. It was a shuttle bus, and because I had my lenses in, I was able to see the teeny tiny sign on the door saying Red Cat which was the company we were going with.


We were the last pick up and as soon as we got in we hit the road and drove to Coral Bay Marina to pick up the boat. Yes another bloody boat! Before even getting on board there were a few things to go through. We were allocated wrist bands, and we were on the red boat. Once they were fastened around our wrists, we moved along to the next part of the check in process, a basic tick box for illness that may have been ommited on the initial waiver forms and what kind of swimmers we were. After that we were then allocated our stinger suits, a delightful thing not dissimilar to a gimp suit, but without the hood. I was also fitted with a life jacket due to my swimming ability being that of a brick, and was advised that women were generally given bigger ones, the young lad handing them out was being very delicate with his wording bless him, so iIsupplied them for him, Chesticles. We had already been advised there were three boats going out today each with 36 people on board. This made me think, that's an awful lot of people on Whitehaven beach!


We finally boarded and on our boat was the couple from the Colonial Palms, and Kayla, the young Canadian girl we met on the bus from Brisbane. There was a couple sat behind us, and I heard the lady say she hadn't been to whitehaven for 25 years and was curious to see where we would be dropped off. The boat was a Catamaran purpose built for stability and it was a really smooth ride. The waves were splashing up the zipped down sides we were flying across the bay, and the people at the front were getting a bit damp. Our guides were Ella and Dave. Ella was a ball of positive energy and very good at her job, her safety briefings were amusing and memorable. Dave didn't interact as much he was steering the boat. Onboard there was a toilet, named the thunder box, and it was, quite literally a box. We were given instructions on how to use it and the importance of pushing the lever down after finishing our business. We were then informed that if the final step of the procedure wasn't performed then the contents of the bowl would be all over the box. Ella would then clean it up without gloves and then serve our lunch. I thought that it would be a good idea to push the lever myself, something I think everyone agreed with.


Once we were all settled and all the chatting was done, Ella cranked up the music and bought around some rather nice gooey chocolate brownies. You will be amazed to hear that instead of inhaling mine, I nibbled at it and savoured it one tiny little mouthful at a time. It lasted ages. It wasn't a Claire sized portion either so i'm actually feeling rather pleased with myself for making it last so long. As we sailed along, Ella pointed out various things of interest and was very passionate about the islands and the reef. The company does a lot of research and conservation of the reef and she is heavily involved in it.


We arrived at Whitsunday Island and I was more than a little surprised. Having been before I fully expected to be sailing into the crystal clear waters and the white silica sand of Hill Inlet. Instead we came to a stop in Tongue Bay. A very pretty little bay, with a lot of boats moored up and several rigs pulled up onto the beach. A further talk was given, times etc a check that everyone had water with them, if not they had to get a water bottle from the boat to take with them, as there is no fresh water on the Island. The boat was easy to get off having a ladder and Ella was at the bottom guiding everyone down. we were right in the shallows, and the clear water was just ankle deep. Si was holding on to my hand, but as I walked through the water I lost my flip flop, there was a brief chase given by Si, and he grabbed hold of it before it was dragged out and never to be seen again. Once on the beach, I was hit with a feeling of great disappointment. The description of the trip mentioned a bush walk to Hill Inlet look out and nowhere did it mention that we wouldn't be landing on Whitehaven Beach itself. The view from Hill Inlet is spectacular and our intended plan was for Si to go do that while I soaked up the sun on the beach as we wrongly assumed that we would be deposited on the beach itself and not the other side of the Island. As we walked up the steep steps from the beach which we were assured were the steepest we would encounter, we quickly realised that that particular statement wasn't strictly accurate! One of the crew from the other boat was checking in on everyone and said it wasn't a great deal further and, naively we believed him. Unfortunately, he was telling porkies, and it was a lot further than he had intimated and I found it to be incredibly difficult going to say the least. add to that the tiny little detail that it was now midday, and it was very hot, and I was getting grumpy! The trip details did say it wasn't suitable for wheelchairs, but made no mention that it could be challenging for people with mobility issues, or even if you weren't fully fit. On a different boat there was a girl in a wheelchair, I have no idea how she managed because none of the beach was accessible to her as I heard her state that she wouldn't be able to walk. We finally made the lookout, which is on a substantial walk way operating on a one way system. It was absolutely crammed full of people trying to get photos of the beautiful surroundings. we managed to get some stunning pics and the crew were taking photos for everyone as well from the lookout. After looking out over the spectcular 7km beach,and bay we made our way very slowly back down the way we had come up with the intention of getting some beach time. Again it was a lot further than we were led to believe and I was beginning to think I wouldn't make it. After an hour of walking in total with lots of rests we stepped onto the amazing white silica sand, baby powder soft and cool underfoot. It was nothing like the quiet haven I had been fortunate to exerience before, there were over a hundred people just off our three boats and that was without all the other boats that were moored in Tongue Bay.


The gentleman from the hotel opposite us, had given up on the walk and failed to get to the beach. His wife made it down and explained he's waiting for knee surgery and the walk was just far too much for him and he certainly hadn't been expecting it. They are from Malta, and a lovely couple, I took some photos of her with the beach in the background with her phone while Si went down for a paddle. It was just too far for me, so I stayed were I was, mindful that I had to get back to the boat, on the other side of the Island via some, what would be for me, difficult terrain. There is a gorgeous, dead tree on the beach that would have made a lovely photo, but trying to get a decent photo of it proved impossible due to the swarms of people climbing on it. The couple who were sat behind us on the boat passed me on the beach and stopped to chat, during the conversation I asked them what they thought of the trip having also been before. The lady, like me was very disappointed and felt they had been sold something completely different to what we had got. A lot of people felt the same way. When you get off a boat onto Whitehaven Beach the sand is so soft, you instantly sink in it up to your knees, which is quirky. I've checked online and can't find anything saying that boats can't anchor off the beach, in fact the opposite is the case. You can also camp overnight there if you so wished, so I think it was more a case of we were misled by the tour description and ultimately should have selected a different one.


The sand is so fine, you can use it to polish your jewellery and it works as a very soft buffer. which is exactly what i did! It all came up beautifully. While Si was paddling in the warm water, he saw a basking lemon shark in the shallows and some manta rays, but thankfully no stingers, as he didnt have his suit on! We had a grand total of half an hour on Whitehaven beach, which was a shame and then we had to commence the hike back to the other side of the island to the boat. It nearly bloody killed me, and i was beginning to wonder if I would infact make it!! obviously I did because I am tip tapping away right now!


Once we got back on the boat, and pushed off from the shore, Ella tied us up to a buoy in Tongue Bay and lunch was served, it was pretty good, and there was plenty of it. Si had seconds and everyone looked around for turtles of which there were none. Someone thought they'd spotted one but it turned out to be just a bit of wood or similar, whatever it was it was most definately not a turtle. There are mangroves on the islands and it is in the roots of these that Mantarays have their young. The roots act like a cage and keep them safe from larger predators until they are able to fend for themselves. There was a young couple seated in front of us, from Yorkshire, they were fab!. It came about that the girl (whose name we didnt get) has family in Pontypool and they spent summers there when they were kids. Small world innit? They are off dong two dives tomorrow and were on the trip to get an idea of the coral to expect to see while diving. They did their diving qualificationns in Thailland, after doing an introductory dive thing at home, so were looking forward to tomorrow.


After lunch we went to out first snorkelling spot, Hook Island. Ella warned us that we wouldn't see much coral due to a Cyclone Debbie in 2017 which had destroyed it and it hasn't yet recovered. It is totally exposed in the North so is avoided at the first sniff of a Northerly Breeze. Once a piece of Coral gets broken off it takes another 5 years for it to regenerate and recover. There were losts of fish to be seen, in particular Yellow Tail fusiliers which were great, some of them so used to humans that they were headbutting the snorkellers.. There is a beach on mantaray Bay, but it is not a pleasant beach to walk on being made up of lots of broken coral which can be sharp. When we arrived, Dave had owered a tender and Ella got in it. There were a couple of people on the boat who weren't swimming and she was showing them the fish through a tube thing which allowed them to see everything we were seeing but from the boat. I got off the boat last, and Dave checked that my life jacket was on properly and nice and tight. I grabbed a pool noodle and got in the water where Si was waiting. It was like a bath, so warm, and just hundreds of fish everywhere we looked. I'd bought a waterproof pouch for my phone and had it in the water to try and capture the fish and hopefully some coral. Unfortunately it was as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike. It wouldn't focus, I couldn't operate the button to take photos and it kept switching off. A total waste of time and effort, the only good thing was the fact my phone stayed dry. There is a huge Maori Wrasse called George who swims in Mantaray Bay off Hook Island. Maori Wrasse can grow up to a massive 6 feet in length and live for over 30 years, they are very friendly and George in particular, is used to divers and snorkellers. The crew were keeping an eye on everyone and herding them like sheep if they started to stray. After a while, we were all back on the boat and heading around Hook Island to the second snorkel spot. I think it was called Cockatoo Point and it has some of the best Coral in the Whitsundays. This time, there was more coral and less fish. It was just magnificent, waving gently in the currents, massive clumps of it, salmon pinks, shades of purples and yellows, huge white stag corals,and a coral that looked like brains. I wish we had thought to take our Go Pro with us because we would have had some fabulous images to share. We weren't allowed to swim over the coral itself but along the edge of it. Think finding Nemo and the drop off, and thats where we were swimming, in the drop off.


Although the coral was incredible beneath the silent water, there were just too many people. Feet and hands were flying in all directions as we were swimming against the tide initially, and there was a lot of bumping into people going on. Even the stronger swimmers found it irritating and they were able to get away from the splashers like my good self. If anyone is wanting to do a trip and snorkel the reefs, do check how many numbers are involved and go fro the smallest one possible for the best experience. Don't get me wrong, it was amazing, and the coral far more beautiful and bountiful than I saw previously, but the sheer number of people spoilt it from a lot of peoples perspective.


Unfortunately, the snorkelling on the coral was very short, and we were rounded up, and back on the boat after what seemed like a very short time. The stinger suits were peeled off with. great difficulty and handed back in with the masks and snorkels. Once that was all completed, and we were back in the seats, we made the journey back to airlie beach, and were served with some afternonn tea in the form of fruit skewers which were bloody good!.


When we returned to the marina and disembarked , we were directed to the shuttles. There were obviously not enough shuttles to go around for the number of people, so we had to wait a little while for them to return to pick us, and the other couple from the Collonial up. There was thankfully a bit of shade to wait under and we were only there about half an hour until it returned for us.


All in all not a bad day out, just not what I was expecting and not really what the tour was described as when I booked it. I did wonder if my own expectations were too high, given what i've experienced before around the Islands. Any how, it's ticked off and done so we move on to the next!

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much love

x



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